Hat, Shoe, Pen: Neurological Update

January 2, 2008

Sudden cardiac arrest deprives the brain of oxygen.  That probably explains why I was unable to form new memories during the first several days following my collapse on the tennis court in mid-November.  You can only imagine my profound relief when that problem suddenly seemed to vanish on day four.  Still unresolved, however, was whether I might have suffered any enduring cognitive deficits of a more subtle sort. 

To see where I stood, I went last week for my follow-up visit with the neurologist who treated me during my hospital stay.  One of the tests he had given me in November was to ask whether I could remember three simple words—hat, shoe, and pen—that he had told me to hold in mind a few minutes earlier in our conversation. I could not recall any of them.

In the ensuing weeks, my incompetence at this task became a running joke in the family.  One of my Christmas presents from Ellen and the boys was entitled “the great triumvirate.”  They asked me to guess what three things were in the box.  Of course, I had no idea. When I opened it to find a Tilley hat, a Cross pen, and a tiny tennis shoe Ellen had molded out of clay, they explained that these were the three words the neurologist had asked me about. 

The morning before going for my follow-up visit with the neurologist, I asked Ellen to test me with three new words.  “Tree, box, squirrel,” she said, then asked me five minutes later whether I could recite them.  Before answering, I asked whether she could remember them.  She could not.  (This test is harder than it seems!) But I was relieved that I could.

About 15 minutes into my session with the neurologist the next afternoon, he told me he was going to ask me to remember three words.  It was all Ellen and I could do to keep from cracking up when he used the same three words he had in November—hat, shoe, and pen!  (Of course he would use the same words every time.  How else could HE remember them?)  When he asked whether I could recall them five minutes later, I momentarily drew a blank.  But then the image of the hat, shoe, and pen in my Christmas gift box flashed before my eyes, and I was out of there with a clean bill of health.


Tennis anyone?

December 11, 2007

I’m delighted to report that the results of the treadmill stress test I took yesterday persuaded my cardiologist to approve my return to the tennis courts.   He also filled me in on various interesting details of my experience.  The bottom line is that I was unbelievably lucky.  Apparently more than 90 percent of the roughly 500,000 Americans who experience episodes of sudden cardiac arrest with no previous history of heart trouble die on the spot, and most of those who survive do so only with severe cognitive or physical disabilities. Fortunately for me, my tennis partner, Tom Gilovich, had the presence of mind to perform CPR as we’ve all seen it done in movies; and there just happened to be an ambulance close by because of an auto accident that had occurred near the tennis facility.  So the EMS technicians were able to get my heart started again fairly quickly   I was then airlifted to the Guthrie Clinic in Sayre, PA, where the cardiac emergency team discovered that one of my coronary arteries had become completely blocked, presumably by a clot that had broken loose while I was playing tennis.  They opened that artery with a stent and reported that the remaining arteries were unobstructed.   The elapsed time between my collapse on the court and the installation of the stent was almost three hours.  I asked my cardiologist yesterday whether that meant that major portions of the heart muscle had been destroyed in the interim.  You can imagine my relief when he explained that little lasting muscle damage occurs if they can restore blood flow within twelve hours.  The worst cases, he said, were those in which people ignore heart attack symptoms for several days before seeking medical attention.  He said it probably also helped that my generally high level of physical activity meant that my heart had developed rich networks of ancillary vessels served by other arteries.  In any event, tests show that my heart is already pumping very well.  He said I should be as good as new in short order.   So obviously I’ve been incredibly lucky.  My thanks again to my family for their unwavering support through all this, especially in the early hours when everything must have seemed so uncertain.  And many thanks to everyone who’s reached out to me in recent days.  I cannot tell you how encouraging your messages of support have been.   May you and yours be healthy and happy as the holidays approach.  Warmest wishes,Bob  

Great to be home!

November 22, 2007

The previous updates have come from my sons Chris and Jason. Many thanks to them for setting up this site and to all of you for the warm messages you’ve posted on it.

Robert Packer hospital in Sayre, PA, where I’d spent the previous four nights, struck me as an incredibly well-run place. If you ever need a hospital in this part of the world, consider it. But there’s no hospital on earth that’s conducive to a good night’s sleep. So it was a real luxury to sleep at home again last night.

Life threatening illnesses are natural occasions for taking stock. I feel incredibly lucky in so many ways. I’m pleased at the unexpectedly quick pace of my recovery so far and look forward to spending as much time as possible with family and friends in the days ahead.

Warmest wishes,


November 21, 2007

Bob arrived home on Wednesday afternoon and is continuing his rest and recovery in the comfort of home.
Bob at home

We understand that you are all eager to express your best wishes in person, but Bob needs some time to rest and recover… as does his family! We appreciate your understanding.


November 21, 2007

Today Bob made remarkable progress, and the doctors think he’ll be ready to come home tomorrow. There’s still a ways to go, but today was encouraging. This year we really do have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.


November 20, 2007

Today Bob moved from the ICU to a regular hospital room. He’s still not ready to receive visitors, but this is a very good sign. We appreciate all your comments and support.

(saturday night’s hospital slumber party)

November 18, 2007


Chris, Hayden, and Ellen in the waiting room
(photo by Jason)


Three of the Frank boys
(photo by Ellen)

Health Update

November 18, 2007

As some of you already know, Robert Frank suffered a heart attack on Saturday, November 17th. He is fully alert and resting comfortably in the hospital. We have every reason to expect a full recovery, but on an as-yet-undetermined timetable.

This site will be updated periodically as new information becomes available. We appreciate your support, and invite you to leave any words of encouragement here on this blog–just click the “comment” link.

Thank you!


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